Monthly Archives: August 2016

I Refuse To Play

This week I listened to my girlfriend as she unburdened her heart about her boyfriend.

She likes him, but his behavior…not so much.

You see, her boyfriend is an ultra-conservative Christian and an ultra-conservative Republican.  He keeps getting temporarily suspended from Facebook for making “offensive” comments about politics and religion.

The recent flooding in Baton Rouge sparked another round of angry posts.  He posted about Obama’s failure to show up in Baton Rouge and what he interpreted as Obama’s lack of concern about the flooding and damage, the loss of lives and homes.  Fair enough.  He complained that instead of visiting Baton Rouge, Obama was busy golfing and vacationing. Fair enough.

And then he finished his post by stating that after golfing Obama went home to (have gay sex with a “wife” that is actually a man in drag.)  I refrained from quoting this man directly because the words are inflammatory and incredibly inappropriate.  Not surprisingly, Facebook suspended his account again.

Lately, Facebook has been rife with comments like what this man posted. My uncle has posted similar things in the past because he is also ultra-conservative on multiple fronts. Posts like these bother me on so many levels I don’t even know where to begin.  I despair of ever attaining real, meaningful dialogue about our presidential election with people who don’t already agree with my viewpoint. I despair of getting the American populace to focus on what is truly important and not on petty opinions that mean nothing to the problem at hand.

As much as the world doesn’t need me to monitor its Facebook posts, it’s time to speak up about what I see as truly reprehensible behaviors that don’t reflect true Christian faith and don’t reflect the better nature of the American people.

First, if you are going to make a political statement or complaint, could you stick to the point?  If you don’t like Obama’s choices, then complain about his choices—not his marriage, or what his wife looks like, or whether he chose to have some leisure time instead of working 24/7 (because that’s an unrealistic expectation that you couldn’t attain either).  Stick to the point…because your point could potentially be valid and be an opening for real political dialogue.  I am tired of complaints that make it evident that the person is not actually seeking to express valid criticism of the President or of our political process, but is instead just throwing negative categories out there that supposedly make Obama bad…gay…black…married to a man…Muslim…socialist…BAD! Those kinds of comments don’t change anything and they don’t highlight what might need to change (unless you count the bad behavior of the commentator.)  As I understand the United States, we have a couple of freedoms—speech, voting—that make it possible to change things for the better. You are free to exercise those freedoms any way that you want, but it would be a real shame if you wasted your freedom of speech on your right to say outrageous and hateful things that change nothing but whether or not I am going to unfriend you on Facebook.

Having said what I think are relatively rational things, I’d like to criticize some of the useless dialogue that passes for political posts on Facebook. In case you were wondering, I am about to rant just a little and yes, I will be opinionated. You have been warned.

Michelle Obama is not an extension of the President…stop treating her like she is a reflection on him. For God’s sake, the woman is his wife, not his kneecap or his left arm or the frontal lobe of his brain. She is the First Lady and therefore a representative of the United States, and her actions and words are subject to commentary just like the President’s actions and words are subject to scrutiny and commentary.  Sadly, what I hear from conservatives is that she looks like a man and is not pretty; some have gone so far to suggest she is a man in drag.  Really?  What you think about Michelle Obama’s looks is meaningless.  What you think about her body is meaningless. What you think about how she dresses is meaningless. God did not make women for you to pick them apart and rate them like you would an automobile.  God did not make women for YOU to tell them how to dress or how to walk or how to express themselves as if you alone determine if a woman is acceptable. The only people who are legitimately able to judge a women are God and the woman herself…because that’s who she belongs to: God and herself and that’s it.  No one actually needs to publicly comment on the body of another person unless you are a sports commentator talking about an athlete losing weight or bulking up to improve their performance in their sport…and then you are actually discussing their performance.  Human bodies are not for commentary.  It doesn’t matter whether the body belongs to the President’s wife, or Donald Trump’s wife, or your neighbor’s daughter, or neighbor’s son either.  Human beings are NOT objects to be rated for attractiveness or whether or not they meet your approval.

Being successful does NOT entitle you to have a beautiful partner and failing to have a beautiful partner does NOT indicate that you are not actually successful.   Essentially folks—women are not a reward for accomplishment. Neither are beautiful men. According to our culture, raises and riches are rewards for accomplishment. Medals are a reward for accomplishment. Acclaim and fame are rewards for accomplishment.  Human beings are not rewards for accomplishment.  Just because some rich people choose to trade in their current partner (usually a wife) for a younger and more beautiful partner does not make that behavior acceptable or laudable. The idea that being successful entitles someone to a younger and more beautiful version of their current partner reduces human beings to possessions that can be attained.  There’s a reason why we use the phrase “Trophy Wife” and it is disgusting.  Human beings are not a reward for accomplishment.

Neither sexuality or religion (or any other non-related topic) renders the person incapable and invalid as a human being. Making disparaging comments about someone’s sexuality or religion or disability (add in your own categories here) is not justification for your dissatisfaction with their performance on their job or their performance as a politician.  I’m betting that the folks who find themselves trapped in a burning building don’t bother to ask the firefighter who is coming to save them if the firefighter is gay or what their religious preference happens to be…probably because at that moment, most people just want to be rescued.  Likewise, most folks don’t ask the doctor who treats them in the ER if the doctor is Christian or if the doctor agrees with their political views or if the doctor also rejects the same categories of people and behavior that they reject.  The truth is that we interact with hundreds of people every day without knowing what their sexual preference or religious preferences are. We don’t know if they are liberal or conservative.  We don’t know if they believe in home schooling.  We don’t know if they support gun control.  In the end…we don’t bother to know because it doesn’t impact that person’s ability to do whatever it is that we need them to do.  I’m betting that all of us have encountered more gay people, Muslims, and transgendered persons than we have ever realized…and sometimes those gay, Muslim, and transgendered folks have been our coworkers, neighbors, and friends.  Statements about Obama being gay or Muslim have absolutely nothing to do with his effectiveness as president, any more than Hillary being short or Trump having a comb-over is going to have any impact on their ability to lead the country.  Stop calling people who disagree with you libtards, wingnuts, freaks, or fascists.  Stop using inflammatory statements as a way of shoring up your negative opinion of someone.  It’s okay to say “I really don’t like that political leader…they don’t do what I think they should.”   While others may want you to justify your opinions, don’t bother.  Opinions aren’t science.  Really…you can simply have an opinion and not justify it at all.

I guess what I want more than anything is the chance to have real, meaningful dialogue where no one yells and no one starts throwing around hate-language.  I have a number of good friends who are on the opposite side of the political spectrum and it’s amazing how many things we actually agree on—especially when it comes to identifying the problems.  We spend time talking about what we think might work as a solution to the problem and why we think it might work…and we often don’t agree.  The funny thing is that we still get along; we still work side by side…and we respect each other more than I can explain.

The bad behavior has got to stop!!  It isn’t getting our nation anywhere, and it makes us look like a bunch of uneducated bullies who are fighting for the right to be the biggest bully on the playground. I refuse to play.  I suggest you refuse to play as well.

 

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Trying to Balance the One Hand With the Other

A fellow Zumba teacher posted on Facebook that she will no longer be teaching Zumba because it does not bring glory to God and is not modest.  She is concerned with what Jesus would think if He returned to earth and found her dancing to music that is occasionally sexual in nature and moving in ways that can be perceived as ‘sexy.’

On the one hand, the Christian part of me wants to affirm her for following her conscience and doing what she thinks is best for her relationship with God.  In her post she cited 2 Corinthians 7:1

“With promises like this to pull us on, dear friends, let’s make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without. Let’s make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of God.” (The Message)

If she thinks that dancing and teaching Zumba somehow defiles or distracts her from her faith, then I agree that it has to be removed from her life.  I will always support someone doing what will bring them into a closer walk with God.

On the other hand…

I absolutely reject anything and everything that tells us that our sexual nature and our beautiful bodies are somehow sinful just because they are beautiful and sexual in nature.  For goodness sakes: GOD CREATED YOUR BODY.  God knew exactly what He was doing, and God did not build your body with the aim of testing you with the demand that you reject that same body, it’s beauty, and your sexual nature just to prove that you love Him.  God is not weird like that.  Humans…we are weird like that. We play games like that, demanding that people PROVE that they love us.  God has more self-esteem than that.

Personally, I think if you truly love God you ought to try to accept your body as it is.  Accept the flesh that God put you in, with all its flaws and frailties, and with all the gifts that being enfleshed brings.  Sexuality is a GIFT from God.  Your body, with its particular beauty, is a GIFT from God.  The way your body moves is a GIFT and that means that dancing, even dancing that looks sexy…is a GIFT from God.

The God who created you is perfectly okay with your body and all its ways of moving and expressing itself as long as you are not harming anyone (including yourself).  God created the body you are in and He loves that body and the soul within it more than you can ever imagine.

Hear me out: I am not condoning wanton sexual expression or people who expose themselves publicly.  I’m not condoning prostitution or any kind of fornication, either.  I am not condoning dancing in a sexual manner for attention and/or money.  God does not want you to be a stripper, okay?  You were not created by God to be an object to be used for gratification or exploited for cash…you are a human being beyond value to your Creator.

And that last statement—that you are human being beyond value to your Creator—is exactly why I believe that God is okay with our bodies and how we move them.  Dance!  Run!  Play!  Laugh!  Do the things your body was created for, which includes having sex and being sexy.  The Facebook post of my fellow Zumba teacher asked the question Would Jesus, who lived a sinless life, ever be seen moving His body the way I do? Would He expose His body the way I have?   Considering how often Jesus chose to do exactly the opposite of what the religious authorities in Israel thought He should do, I’m guessing that YES…he would have danced and bared his midriff and enjoyed his embodied self without fear. I also think that if Jesus was around today He might just be tattooed and hang out with the people that many Christians reject as sinful.  Jesus did that all the time, and it drove the “holy” people of the time absolutely nuts!

Stop acting like your body is offensive to God.  Cover the private places and know that the rest of your body is beautiful and fine.  If you like being more covered up because it makes you feel better about yourself, then cover up, but remember that your covering is about YOU, not GOD.  If covering your body or your hair reminds you of your identity as God’s beloved child, then cover yourself, but remember that your covering up is what YOU need, not what GOD needs from you.  What God needs from you is do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8) Do whatever you need to do in order to live up to all three of those commands, but don’t confuse what YOU need in order to remain within God’s will with what GOD needs from you.  Your needs are individual.

Please, don’t make God into the Almighty Beancounter.  Don’t project your own need for strict rules and guidelines onto God’s generous and loving nature, and then state that God expects such strict and regulated behavior from all of us.  The only thing that long lists of rules and guidelines will give you is a sure and easy way to declare yourself righteous and your neighbor unrighteous.  After all…doesn’t following all those rules give you the right to call yourself holy and righteous? And if the rules and guidelines that you believe Christians should live by are supposedly dictated by God Himself, then anyone who doesn’t live by them is unholy and…condemned.

Jesus had a lot to say about the people who lived by strict rules and guidelines that insured they would be considered righteous. He had a lot to say about the people who thought they could clearly identify who pleased God and who was unholy and…condemned.  They called themselves Pharisees, Jesus called them a “brood of vipers” and “whitewashed tombs”.  In Mark 7:6-8, Jesus says to them

“Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” (NIV)

Obviously, I don’t know what you need in your life or what you need to eliminate from your life in order for you to have a deep and abiding relationship with God.  Only you know that.  And in all honesty, I encourage you to closely follow the guidance that God is giving you about what needs to be in and what needs to leave your life in order for you to follow God’s will.  All I ask is that you remember that what you need in order to be holy is on the one hand…and on the other hand is what God needs of you. Do not confuse YOUR needs with what God is asking for.  “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”  There are no clear rules about what justice, mercy, and humility will look like in YOUR life…but I’m betting you that God would be glad to reveal your path to you if you will seek him in prayer.

Seek Him. And along the way, please try not to condemn your neighbor in the interest of your own righteousness.

This Post Makes Me Sick

Earlier this week, one of my colleagues in ministry was arrested by the FBI and charged with producing child pornography.

I am a minister and a trauma counselor, and right now I am torn in all sorts of ways.

Reading the news releases about his arrest made me physically sick.  Even as I write this, the same feelings emerge: a deep sense of sadness, an ache in my chest, my stomach turns, and I have an overwhelming urge to sit and cry.

The hardest part is remembering that being charged with a crime is NOT the same as being guilty of a crime, and this is where I find myself feeling torn. I have so many emotions, simultaneously.

You see, whether my colleague is guilty or not, many lives will be destroyed because of these charges.

If my colleague is not guilty, his reputation will still be destroyed.  People will always remember him as the minister who was charged with sex crimes against children.  His friends and family will always wonder what happened, why he was accused, why he was arrested.  His career is in shambles.  He is no longer a minister in our Church.  He has lost his job.  How will he get hired anywhere else right now?  He is charged with a heinous crime…and no one wants to hire someone who may have harmed a child, whether they have been declared guilty or not.  Charges like this will impact him emotionally, financially, and it will shake his partnership with his significant other (SO) and his family to the very roots.  It is entirely possible his relationship with his SO will not survive this test, as many relationships cannot get through accusations as grave as these.

In so many ways, if my colleague has been wrongly accused, his life has been destroyed.

On the other hand…

If my colleague is guilty, his life is over.  He goes to prison.  His family is marked with his crime forever, and his SO will have to deal with the repercussions of this crime whether they leave him or not.  His family will always have to deal with this—every holiday, every birthday, every visit to the extended family becomes a moment to remember why he isn’t there.  And oh dear God if there are small children in the family…don’t you wonder?  Did he hurt them too?

But if my colleague is guilty, the damage to his life and his family’s life is nothing in comparison with the damage done to the children he exploited and abused.  And this is where the physical sickness starts in the pit of my stomach.

I have spent way too many of my days at work comforting the victims of sexual abuse. I have spent far too many hours trying to help them find a way to feel safe in the world, to feel safe enough to go to work, to go out in public, to make friends and decide they can risk trusting those friends…you cannot imagine the amount of damage done to their ability to feel safe on a daily basis as they go through the simplest of tasks.  “But Tina”, you say, “doesn’t treatment help?”  Yes, treatment helps…to a point.  The longer the abuse went on, the earlier it started in their life, the larger the number of people who participated in the abuse, the more grievous the abuse…those things can create lasting scars that no amount of treatment can erase.  It’s like being a veteran of war: you can get treatment for the PTSD that war creates, but no amount of treatment for PTSD will change the physical deficits left behind by the injuries of war.  The scars persist.  It is the same with sexual abuse: the more serious the abuse, the harder it is to eradicate the scars.  It’s not that there isn’t hope—it’s just that we can’t erase the past, no matter how hard we try.

And so I find myself torn between what I know of my colleague, what I’ve experienced of him and the friendship that we had, and the knowledge of what these charges may mean.  The part of me that wants him to be not guilty is horrified by the injustice of what that would mean to his career, his family, and his life.  Being not guilty of a crime this severe doesn’t stop the public from punishing you for simply being accused.  But if he’s guilty…the idea of the devastation his crime leaves behind makes me sick to my stomach and makes me ache in my heart for his family and his victims…and for him, because if he is guilty something is very broken in his soul.

And then I feel that I need to address an obvious question: If my colleague really is a pedophile and abuser of children, how did I not notice that something was wrong with him?  After all, I am a trained trauma therapist who works with people who have been sexually abused every day. You’d think that I’d realize it if I was in the presence of a predator, especially a person who preys on children.

The answer is NO…I had no sense that anything was wrong and as for the colleagues I have spoken to, neither did they.  The truth is that unless you witness someone doing something wrong or one of their victims reveals the truth to you, you will rarely know that someone is a predator until they are caught.

We would all like to believe that the monsters among us are easy to see, that if a monster came close to us that we would immediately sense the danger and would take steps to reveal the monster and get them arrested.  That is a lovely thought, but it is perilously close to being a fairy tale, and it keeps us blind to the truth.

The sad and terrible truth that each and every one of us has a monster within, and I don’t mean the potential to be a monster.  I mean that each and every human on the face of the earth is, in some part, a monster; what determines the size of the monster within is how much we feed it and how much we let the monster come out to play.  The monster within me is my anger, and I am ashamed of how vicious I can be when I don’t control my anger.  I wish this wasn’t true about me but it is true, and if I hide that truth from myself I can guarantee that my monster will bite someone—hard—when I am not paying attention.  I have lashed out in anger more often than I want to admit to and have had to apologize to more people than I want to admit to.  On the other hand, I guess I should be pleased that I had the good sense to apologize and admit to my bad behavior, because the problem with monsters is that most of us won’t admit that we have a monster within at all.  We deny that our monster exists, and in doing so, give it free reign to bite and terrorize the people we love and the folks who have to work with us.  If you admit that you have a monster within, you can do your best to control it, to deny it emotional food, to refuse to let it ‘come out and play’.  However, if you deny that you have a monster within at all, then it will come out and play whenever it can, whenever circumstances invite your inner monster to respond.  If he’s guilty this is what led my colleague to such horrible, devastating actions—he fed the monster and let it come out and play, and look what it did and how many little children are left bleeding in its wake.

It would be easy to simply label my colleague a monster and lock him away and forget that he ever existed, but I beg you not to respond in that way.  If he is guilty, yes, we should put him in prison and keep him away from the rest of the world for our own safety.  But please don’t just walk away and forget that you, too, have a monster within. Please don’t go on pretending that your monster never bites anyone, never behaves in horrible ways, never makes you ashamed of yourself.  If you are brave, please…own your inner monster. Admit to having a monster within and then set about starving that monster…refusing to give it space to play or emotions to feed on. Refuse to entertain thoughts that awaken your inner monster. Get help—even professional help if you have to.  Do whatever you have to do so that you can put your monster on a leash and take control of it.

All the children who have ever been eaten alive by a monster deserve a world as free of monsters as we can create.  Please…

Please.

From this page to God’s ears.

American Dream To Me

Have you been on Facebook lately? Watched the news much? Listened to talk radio?

If you have, you might just be thinking that the American Dream is coming to an end, that the US has become one giant mess of racial division and hatred. And there is plenty of evidence to support that worldview, except for one thing: it’s not true.

I used to have a professor in seminary who would say “Everything you see and hear confirms your fears, and your fears are still not true.” It took me a long time to understand his statement, but he’s right.

Just because you hear all about on every news source you turn to doesn’t make it true. I’m going to say that again: just because you hear about divisiveness and hatred every day on TV doesn’t mean that this nation is consumed with racial divisiveness and hatred.

Pay attention: THE NEWS DOES NOT REPORT ON WHAT IS GOING RIGHT IN THE WORLD–mostly because that’s kind of boring. News programs report on crime, violence, economic problems, and worldwide concerns. Sure they’ll throw in the occasional human interest story that will make you feel good, but most of the time in any news show is dedicated to reporting what is going wrong in the world.

If you focus on what’s wrong for very long, it will seem like what’s wrong is all there is to focus on.

Everything you see and hear confirms your fears and your fears are still not true. So let me drop some truth on you:

Anyone who tells you that America is rife with division and hatred is lying.

WE ARE MORE UNITED THAN WE REALIZE.

The truth is that you don’t care what ethnicity your neighbor is or what their religion is, as long as they maintain their home and help you create a safe neighborhood for the children to play in.

You don’t care what country or state they came from as long as they will sit next to you at the PTA meeting and work to increase the quality of the schools.

It doesn’t matter what strange foods they eat or how they dress as long as they will help you set up the Halloween Festival in the park in your neighborhood…if they will sit next to you and smile at the children’s costumes…if they will help you with the clean-up afterwards.

You don’t care what your neighbor earns or where they work.

You don’t care who they love or who they choose as their partner, as long as they are private in their lovemaking. (Praise the Lord…I don’t want to see anyone getting their freak on.)

You don’t care what they drive. You don’t care who they vote for. You don’t care what TV shows they watch or what music they listen to…as long as they don’t play it so loud that you are forced to listen to it.

In the end, all you really want is for the person who lives next door to be a GOOD NEIGHBOR…so that you can be a good neighbor towards them and together you can build a safe neighborhood for everyone to live in. All our differences are meaningless when we are kind to each other…once that’s taken care of, what matters is what we have in common.

And we have more in common than we realize. We all want a safe place to raise our children; a good job so we can support our family; enough money to save for our future; and a community that stands together for the good of all. And the things that make us happy are the same: a loving partner, a cozy home, good friends, and occasionally a barbecue and a beer so that we can sit back and enjoy how good life is.

The things we have in common are so much bigger than the differences that supposedly divide us.

And of course, you will always be able to find people who are only in it for themselves, who don’t care about being a good neighbor or a good person. People who are willing to let the public support them; who don’t care about their property; someone who makes things harder for everyone around them. Those people will always exist and you are free let them ruin your ability to believe that we are best when we are united, but I don’t recommend it.

America is not about the red, white, and blue. America is about the black, white, brown, red, and yellow. America is not defined by our geographical borders, but by the unity of the American people, which is far bigger than coasts and islands, and transcends skin color, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity.

Anyone who tells you that you are living in a country that is divided is LYING. Our unity is bigger than our diversity. It is entirely possible that we are able to be unified because of our diversity, since the American Dream is based in the idea that anyone can succeed in this country if they are willing to work hard enough—anyone, regardless of color, gender, or sexual persuasion. We do love our success stories in this country, and we hold up those successes like beacons of promise to remind us that our goal is to be an equal opportunity nation. It’s no wonder why so many people are trying to immigrate into our nation. And while we may not truly have achieved the equality we seek for all persons, we are still striving for it. We are still working to end discrimination, still striving to recognize the areas where our biases create invisible walls that prevent others from achieving their dreams, discovering that even unknown privilege is a problem.

In the United States of America, we have ideals that are far higher than our actual achievements and we are still working to reach those ideals.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you that our ideals cannot be achieved. If you are losing hope in those ideals, get out there and work to make those ideals a reality in your community. You are only one person and you may not be able to change a nation, but changing your little corner of the world is a great start.

I like what Joe Biden had to say in his speech at the Democratic National Convention: “We are America, and we OWN the finish line!” Indeed! Now…let’s work to make sure that everyone crosses that finish line in the most spectacular way possible. Sounds like the American Dream to me.